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Ship Strikes: collisions between whales and vessels

Most reports of collisions between whales and vessels involve large whales, but all species can be affected.  Collisions with large vessels often go unnoticed and unreported. Animals can be injured or killed and vessels can sustain damage.  Serious and even fatal injuries to passengers have occurred involving hydrofoil ferries, whalewatching vessels and recreational craft.

The IWC and ship strikes

Both the Conservation and Scientific Committees of the IWC are working to understand and reduce the threat posed by ship strikes.  A Strategic Plan to Mitigate the Impacts of Ship Strikes has been developed and aims, by 2020, to develop approaches and solutions to  achieve a permanent reduction in ship strikes.  The IWC is also collaborating with other relevant organisations at both regional and inter-governmental levels to share information and expertise.  

Click here to read the IWC Strategic Plan to Mitigate the Impacts of Ship Strikes on Cetacean Populations, 2017-20.

More information on this work can be found here

Quantifying the problem

Every year, the IWC’s Scientific Committee considers methods of estimating the number of whales killed from ship strikes. This is not a simple issue.

You can read more about this work here

Mitigation measures

There is no universal solution to the problem of ship strikes.  Technological, operational and educational solutions are all currently being explored and here you can read a summary of the different measures that have been implemented around the world.  For now, the most effective way to reduce collision risk is to keep whales and ships apart, and where this is not possible, for vessels to slow down and keep a look out.  All mitigation work needs to be undertaken in a collaborative way as migratory animals like whales travel across national boundaries.

The IWC is working in conjunction with other organisations such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and have produced an information leaflet with further advice to reduce the risk of collision. You can read this advice here.  The leaflet is also available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish).

More information can be found here

Ship strikes are an international problem that requires improved knowledge of the behaviour and movements of cetaceans and vessels, and a much better understanding of the numbers of collisions and the circumstances surrounding them. The IWC is committed to gathering this information in order to prioritise areas and species for targeted mitigation measures. A vital component of this is the IWC ship strikes database.  This is a global database of collisions between vessels and whales, and an online public data entry system for submitting reports.  Ocean users are encouraged to report any collision they are involved in or witness.  Each record can then be verified by scientists and the information is used to build a better understanding of when, where and why collisions occur.  Hot spots can then be identified and prioritised.

If you have information relating to a collision between any type of vessel and a whale, dolphin or porpoise please click here to enter your information.

This will open a form that will guide you through the data entry process. Your information will then be passed to our scientists who may wish to ask additional questions.

To find out more about the database click here

National and Regional Cetacean Stranding Networks

Many countries have regional or national strandings networks that maintain records of all stranded cetaceans and where possible ensure that sufficient data are collected to ascertain cause of death. In recognition that ship strikes are one of the reasons for cetacean strandings, a revised list of cetacean stranding networks is provided here for information. If you see cetaceans on the beach then you are urged to contact your local strandings network.  This global list was last updated in March 2011 and contains networks and contact information. Further additions or amendments should be notified to the Secretariat.